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John McLaren will manage tonight in Chicago, but probably not much longer.
What happens now?
This much we know for sure: John McLaren will serve as manager for tonight's game against the White Sox, a game that previously would have been most notable for featuring Adam Dunn against his former club but now stands out for far bigger reasons.
McLaren seemed the obvious choice to take over in the short-term. He served as Jim Riggleman's right-hand man the last 1 1/2 seasons as bench coach. He managed a game in San Francisco earlier this month while Riggleman was serving a suspension. And he has 156 games of big-league managerial experience on his resume, having taken over in Seattle when Mike Hargrove stunningly quit during a seven-game winning streak in 2007.
McLaren's ascension to interim manager, or short-term manager, or caretaker manager, or whatever the Nationals choose to call him represents the closest thing to a smooth transition as could be expected under the circumstances. He knows the roster. He knows what has been working and what hasn't been working. And he's probably not going to attempt to shake things up, certainly not with this team having won 11 of its last 12 games.
But the McLaren Era will not be a lengthy one. Mike Rizzo intends to name a true interim manager within the next few days, letting that person run the show for the remainder of the season.
The interim manager will almost certainly come from within the organization, with Davey Johnson the popular choice to take over. Johnson is 68, a full decade older than Riggleman, and he hasn't managed a big-league team since 2000 with the Dodgers. But he remains a beloved figure in the game, owner of a career .564 winning percentage and he is trusted by Rizzo.
Whether Johnson feels up to the grind of the job -- and whether he's interested in making this a long-term commitment -- after battling health issues in recent seasons remains to be seen.
If not Johnson, then who? Two others names within the organization stand out: Trent Jewett and Randy Knorr.
Jewett, 47, managed the last two seasons in the Nationals' organization (2009 at Class A Potomac, 2010 at Class AAA Syracuse) and has served as an extra coach on the big-league staff this season, one who works out every afternoon with players but is not allowed to be in uniform in the dugout during games.
Knorr, 42, has held various managerial and coaching jobs within the organization since 2006, including two stints on the big-league staff as bullpen coach and most recently as manager at Class AA Harrisburg (2010) and Class AAA Syracuse (2011).
Either Jewett or Knorr would be able to step in quickly, know the roster and command the respect of the clubhouse, having managed many current players when they were in the minor leagues.
Regardless of who ends up taking up shop in the manager's office this weekend and the remainder of the season, the pressure isn't so much on the skipper as much as the players who must not get caught up in the distraction of an abrupt change in leadership and instead simply do what they've done for the last two weeks: Play winning baseball.
"I honestly don't think it's going to affect us at all," shortstop Ian Desmond said yesterday afternoon. "We've got a strong group in here. We've got a very strong, veteran presence. They're going to keep pushing us forward. The No. 1 goal is to win ballgames and see if we can't make a push toward the playoffs at the end."